Makes 4 servings

From Bouchon by Thomas Keller (Artisan, 2004). © 2004 by Thomas Keller.

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Yield: Makes 4 servings

I love everything about mussels cooked this way: steamed open with simple seasonings and served in a big bowl with good bread. There are so many layers to it. Just seeing a bowl of steamed mussels is exciting. They're beautiful to look at, the individual dark shining shells shaped like nothing else. You see the steam rising off the bowl; the aroma surrounds you. Already the dish is unique. Then the eating —it's an interactive food. You pick each one up with your fingers, you eat each one individually, you dip bread in the abundant, buttery broth, you poke through the shells hunting for the last ones, the shells clickety-clacking. And when you're done, you have the delicious broth at the bottom of the bowl: mussel soup.

This dish is a variation on the theme of mussels steamed in an acidic broth flavored with aromatics and seasoning, enriched with butter. It uses white wine, garlic, mustard, and saffron, the latter two ingredients being traditional pairings for shellfish. The mussel we use is the bouchot; small and sweet, it's farmed in Maine by Paul Brayton. If you can't find bouchot mussels, use PEI mussels (from Prince Edward Island). The smaller the mussels, the sweeter they are.


  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 24 cloves Garlic Confit (recipe follows)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • 4 pinches saffron threads
  • 4 pounds small mussels, preferably bouchot
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic Confit:

  • 1 cup peeled garlic cloves (about 45 cloves)
  • About 2 cups canola oil


  • 1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, salt, and white pepper, reduce the heat to low, and cook gently for 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the mustard and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a minute or two, then add the saffron, cover the pot, and remove from the heat. Let the broth steep for at least 5 minutes. (The broth can be allowed to sit for a few hours at room temperature.)
  • 2. To Complete: Rinse the mussels under cold water; scrub them if necessary to clean them. Pull off and discard the beards.
  • 3. Bring the broth to a simmer over high heat. Add the mussels and stir to combine. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the mussels have opened.
  • 4. Toss the mussels with the parsley and a few grindings of black pepper. Serve immediately in large shallow bowls, with some crusty bread.

Garlic Confit

  • Makes 2 cups
  • At the restaurant, garlic confit is used in so many preparations that we consider it to be a pantry staple. It's such a great flavoring device for everything from shellfish to mashed potatoes, or to be stirred into soup or spread on a baguette for a tartine. The oil the garlic is cooked in can be used as well.
  • 1. Cut off and discard the root ends of the garlic cloves. Place the cloves in a small saucepan and add enough oil to cover them by about 1 inch—none of the garlic cloves should be poking through the oil.
  • 3. Place the saucepan on a diffuser over medium-low heat. The cloves should cook gently. Very small bubbles will come up through the oil, but the bubbles should not break the surface. Adjust the heat as necessary and move the pan to one side of the diffuser if it is cooking too quickly. Cook the garlic for about 40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until the cloves are completely tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the garlic to cool in the oil.
  • 3. Refrigerate the garlic, submerged in the oil, for up to a month.